Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Book Review: "Montauk" by Nicola Harrison

It's 1938, and a large number of New York City's wealthiest residents descend upon Montauk, Long Island to spend the summer in this new East Coast playground. The wives will spend the entire summer there at the luxurious Montauk Manor, a hotel by the sea, while many of their husbands will return to their business interests in the city and then come to Montauk on weekends.

Beatrice Bordeaux is among those wives who will spend their summer in Montauk, but she is surprised to learn that her husband Harry will be leaving her during the week. One of the main purposes of this trip was that the couple could rekindle their marriage and hopefully become pregnant with the baby that has eluded them for five years. Although Bea would like to relax and read, Harry wants her to socialize with the other society matrons, so that he may find a foothold for his investment interests in Montauk.

While Bea is taken by the beauty of Montauk, she quickly grows bored of the women's talk of frivolous things, even charitable activities that seem more self-serving than generous. She befriends Elizabeth, the Manor's laundress, whose down-to-earth nature reminds Bea more of the life she knew before she met Harry, even though such a friendship would be frowned upon.

Bea is also disillusioned by the state of her marriage. Harry seems less and less interested in being with her, only wanting her to help advance his interests and make appearances at his side. When she discovers that Harry is not the devoted husband she thought he was, she begins to do things that interest her, regardless of whether they're appropriate for a married woman (or a woman at all). She also strikes up a friendship with a handsome, sensitive man who is Harry's complete opposite, a man who has a connection to her life before Harry, a time when everything changed.

As she and Harry drift further apart, and she takes her future in her own hands, she is ready to follow her heart for perhaps the first time in her life. But the course of happiness never runs smoothly, and she has to decide whether to do what she wants or do what might be best for everyone, or the risk might be too great.

Montauk is an interesting, beautifully written look at a time in history where a woman was expected to do what she was told, not to ask questions, and simply be happy being cared for by her husband. "Good wives" simply were willing to sit idly by as their husbands did as they wished, and they should be content with filling their days with superficial and social activities. Nicola Harrison did a great job capturing that time, and her descriptions of Montauk and the grandeur of the Manor created vivid images in my mind.

The story was a bit more predictable than I hoped it would be, and as it sped toward its climax things became really melodramatic, but I still found Montauk an enjoyable read. There are some interesting characters in the book, particularly Bea's friend Dolly, who flouted many of the conventions of her time and was pretty fascinating, and I liked Bea's sass and intelligence.

I was fortunate to be part of the pop-up book tour for Montauk. Thanks to BookSparks and St. Martin's Press for providing an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

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